Did you know?
Lives are forever changed the moment a child is born. For many in developed nations, it is the culmination of nine months of joyful preparation and planning to make sure the birth goes as smoothly as possible, and that both mother and baby are healthy.
When the moment comes, specialized nurses and doctors are nearby, ready to leap into action in case an emergency arises.
Now take a moment to consider this:
Imagine living in a place, far away from the world of prenatal vitamins and baby showers, where going through pregnancy and childbirth without this type of medical support is the norm. Imagine a place where women routinely deliver their children at home with hundreds of miles between them and the nearest trained doctor or midwife.
Now imagine what can happen if there are complications.
Zoal Gatkuoth Puok is one of 13 South Sudanese students taking part in an intensive course on emergency obstetric care focused on building the skills of health care workers in his home country. He was selected by his village to attend the training because of his deep commitment, his sharp intellect, and his passion to learn and help the women in his community. Though torn about the decision to leave his home, he left his own wife, then 6 months pregnant, behind in order to attend this important training program in Kenya.
In the new nation of South Sudan, pregnancy is the number one cause of death for girls and women between the ages of 13 and 40. Due to more than 50 years of violent civil war, the health system and its health workers—which are few in number anyway—are simply not appropriately equipped to care for the particular needs of pregnant women and infants.
More specifically, in the Jonglei and Upper Nile states, less than one third of pregnant women have access to any kind of prenatal care, and only one in 10 deliver their baby in a health facility. Most deliver at home with traditional or untrained village workers without any access to medicine, medical supplies, lights, or running water. Women who require a C-section have nowhere to go, and even the most minor complications of labor and delivery can mean death to both mother and baby.
As a faith-based health and development organization, IMA World Health not only knows many of these deaths are preventable, but we also believe these precious lives are worth saving. By empowering communities with knowledge on maternal newborn child health (MNCH) issues, encouraging expectant mothers to use skilled birthing attendants, and providing basic birthing supplies, IMA is working to decrease maternal and infant mortality throughout the developing world.
Recognizing the urgency of the medical crisis in South Sudan, IMA World Health and the Great Lakes University of Kisumu in Kenya obtained funding from the US Office for Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) to train Zoal and 12 other South Sudanese clinical officers in an intensive course on emergency obstetric care.
The nine-month course is teaching these health workers the critical knowledge and skills necessary for safe vaginal delivery, management of post-partum hemorrhage, treatment of toxemia and other critical interventions for saving lives and welcoming new life into the world. After completing the program, the students will return to their rural clinics, fully equipped for delivering babies and managing a host of potential complications that have already taken too many lives.
Not long after arriving in Kenya last fall, excited to learn these new skills, Zoal received the tragic word that his wife had gone into labor very early. No one in the village could provide the necessary care, and both mother and baby died during delivery. Though this is a common story in South Sudan, no one can be prepared for this devastating news.
IMA offered to fly Zoal back home to mourn with his family and to bury his wife. Deeply grieving, he thought for a moment and responded, “My heart is with my family and I want desperately to be with them... but my commitment is to the health of my people, and I must stay and finish this program so others will not die.”
Though devastated, Zoal told IMA staff that, “All things work through the plan of God.” On June 30, 2012—after his nine months of preparation and planning—he will graduate from the training program and return home to his village. And if he can help it, no one else will have to endure the pain and loss that he and his family have endured.There is much work to do all around the world to improve conditions for pregnant women and infants. But through the courage, compassion and dedication displayed by people like Zoal Gatkuoth Puok, we are making a difference, one mother and baby at a time.
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